The guy who forgets his wedding anniversary is a shopworn cliche of comic strips and TV sitcoms, but based on my own experience, I suspect it’s for good reason.
This month, however, I’m making an exception and getting downright excited about celebrating the 10th anniversary of Chief Learning Officer. It represents a major milestone for the magazine and an amazing decade of growth, transformation and progress for the workforce development industry.
Did you know that the traditional 10th anniversary gift is tin? When I found out, I thought tin was a rather modest choice to commemorate such an important achievement. But I also learned that this unassuming metal was selected because it symbolizes pliability. It stands for the fact that many things, like relationships, need to be flexible to be durable; they need to bend and adapt to changing circumstances without breaking.
It’s an apt metaphor for workforce learning and development during the past 10 years.
When the premiere issue of Chief Learning Officer magazine came off the press, learning in most organizations was considered more of a function than a critical discipline. Organizations needed a trained and capable workforce to meet the demands of their markets. Mostly it involved classroom and on-the-job learning focused on specific skills or processes. E-learning was in its infancy. It held loads of promise, but there were lots of kinks and bandwidth issues to be worked out.
We believed the focus was shifting from process to performance improvement, and there was an opportunity to address the needs of those in charge of aligning employee education and development with the overarching, strategic objectives of the organization. A learning leader was evolving who could spearhead the development of every human asset, from the chairman to the intern.
At the time, the title of chief learning officer was foreign to many people. I often was asked how many CLOs there actually were in the corporate world. My stock answer was probably not enough to fill a ballroom. But while the title was still coming into its own, the learning leader role was rapidly becoming a key component in enterprise efforts to maximize human capital, transition into the knowledge economy and heighten competitiveness.
Since 2002, we’ve seen tremendous changes in the workplace and marketplace that have pushed workforce development to the forefront of business strategy and proved it is a significant driver in the most successful organizations.
Today’s workforce is the most multigenerational in history with as many as four distinct generations — each with its own learning style — working side by side. It also is more global. As the world has become flatter and smaller, the workforce has become more diverse, dispersed and multi-dimensional, adding cultural differences and communication challenges to the mix.
The technology used to design, deliver, manage and measure learning and development also has been transformed. I suspect it would be completely unrecognizable to anyone from a decade ago who traveled here in a time machine.
All of these seismic shifts have put tremendous pressure on workforce learning and development leaders to adapt, adjust, anticipate future needs and help the organization not only endure but excel. In response, the industry has shown its mettle by being flexible, pliable and increasingly strategic. Today’s agile learning leaders possess and deploy the high level of business acumen and innovation that is essential to stay ahead of the curve.
In the very first issue of the magazine, I wrote, “On your shoulders falls the responsibility for developing thousands, changing processes, altering the way in which staff, managers and fellow executives think about the present and future.”
That is one thing that hasn’t changed. But I’m more convinced than ever that learning leaders are the bridge that connects an enterprise’s talents with the transformational education and development needed to achieve extraordinary results.
I’m delighted to have had this opportunity to celebrate and report on your progress and professional accomplishments during these 10 years, and I’m extremely proud that Chief Learning Officer has been there to play a role.